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Advent Calendar Window 12 - Christmas Mead

"Let all your memories hold you close
No matter where you are
You're not alone, because the ones 
We love are never far
If Christmas is in your heart." 

For the first time in two and a half years, there is one deviant from the continuous array of different Christmas themed beers in this year’s Advent Calendar. It comes in the unlikely form of a Christmas Mead from Lyme Bay and it was hiding behind Window 12.

I’ve long been fascinated with old styles of drink that have often come close to dying out, though most usually see an inevitable resurgence. I think much of this interest stems from my fascination in Ancient History, born in my early years whilst reading the Adventures of Asterix. There are certainly more than one or two references to Mead in those stories.

Since the evolution of the honeybee nearly a million years ago, they’ve faced an ongoing natural battle against wild yeasts that would infect their stores of honey and begin fermenting it. The honeybee has evolved and adapted several times to counteract the effects of indigenous yeast. Yet yeast has adapted too in a constant war against osmotic pressure meaning that a type of fermented honey develops naturally in the wild. And many millennia ago humans discovered it. Mead pre-dates both Beer and Wine and is thought to have been drunk by man at least 40,000 years ago.

As ancient civilisations developed, mead is noted across many people’s early histories; in Africa, China, India and the Mediterranean. Many famous works reference the drink – such as those by Aristotle – and it even gains mention in the Naturalis Historia that every beer geek knows was written by one Pliny the Elder.

On these isles, many of us perhaps associate Mead with Viking and Norman warriors, possibly thanks to the poem Beowulf rather than actual fact. Whether the image of drinking this honey based beverage from the skull of your enemy is true doesn’t change the fact that this honey wine-like drink (but it is not a “honey wine”) conjures images of warriors and battle.

Mead consumption dropped as beer and wine gathered popularity and started to be made in huge numbers. Some put it down to the unpredictability of honey development or even the efficiency of its makers, meaning there is little waste that would be used for Mead. Monasteries kept the production of mead alive, even in this country where one of the more common brands comes from Lindisfarne and the St Aidan's Winery there. 

It is seeing a resurgence again though, especially in America. There’s a sense that Mead could be “the next big thing” as modern brewers play with it’s natural sweetness against fruits (Melomels) or use hops in its production, (Braggots) something I would happily see much more of.

Lyme Bay winery are based in Devon and began life as cider produces but have since branched out to many other drinks found in the West Country. They produce several different types of Mead but this Christmas variety is distilled with “festive spices” (sometimes this type of mead is called a Metheglin) and can be served at room temperature or heated, like a mulled wine. I am short on time and company at the time of writing, so have opted to have one glass at room temperature. I’m going to share the rest of the bottle with friends at a later date heated slightly and may amend this review when that has happened.

As soon as a I begin to pour this I realise I am going to struggle to write anything about this drink without overusing the word honey. The colour is a lovely honey shade, sitting in the glass like a dessert wine. It also engulfs you with the scent of honey. It’s overpowering, overbearing and overwhelming. It's exactly like sticking your nose in a honey pot that's been laced with bleach. There's a hint of something spicy in there, but it almost feels artificial, like a bad December air freshener. The initial sip makes you pull that scrunched up face where you stick your tongue out and exhale something like the word "Yak." Anybody witnessing the first taster of this Mead would assume it’s repulsive. And then it hits the back of you and you're transported. Suddenly you are among the fairylight-lit, wooden huts of a European market, every inch of you wrapped up apart from your eyes and exhaling clouds of breath into the still night. Amongst your hands is a warming, deliciously sweet, spiced drink that's finishing a perfect picture of winter. You understand now why this could be drunk warm. It's so reminiscent of those cups of mulled wine but, unlike those, it holds its own served at room temperature. The heavily sweet flavours are counter balanced by a cinnamon spice and a ginger heat. The back of your throat feels pleasantly warm whilst the honey flavours become an indulgence. The finish is just that little tart to give it an extra dimension and complexity. It's a sharing drink. You are not going to sit in on any night and drink this to yourself no matter how many enemies you may have vanquished. It isn't a million miles from the beautiful Tokaji of Hungary. It is delicious and in a time when sweet things were not as common, you can understand why this would be considered miraculous.  

Christmas Spirit Rating: 85%. Get me to some Christmas markets!

Revisit: Two Christmas Crackers from December 2012 even though I never will
There is Noel in Christmas from December 12th 2013


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